This Week on Demand: 25/11/2012

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In what’s becoming all too much of an ungainly routine, allow me to once more apologise for the absence in your weekly reading material of a Next Projection VOD column; my impromptu coverage of the Cork Film Festival necessitated its temporary abandonment, a transgression I am confident you can manage to forgive. It was a good week to skip, at any rate, its offerings lacking in any great deal of promise save a horror classic and two modern works of note, all presented here instead. As for this week’s crop, it’s an overall average array save for one work of extreme importance and emotional resonance, a powerfully moving piece of work I urge you to devote your time to.


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A well-known American comedy actor walks onto the set of a Spanish soap opera. If that sounds like the setup for a one-note gag, it’s primarily since it is: Casa de Mi Padre sees Will Ferrell star in a Spanish language melodrama riffing on stereotypical representations of Latin television and B-westerns, the chief conceit of which is that other languages are just so silly. Ferrell, to give credit where it’s due, performs his lines and even songs with commendable gusto, leaping gaily forth into a doubtlessly difficult role and managing to seem passably confident with this new language. Whatever limited comedy lies in the basic premise is about all that works for Casa de Mi Padre, writer Andrew Steele seemingly confident that laughing at foreigners negates the need for any actual jokes outside the basic setup. He’s wrong, of course, like so much of his film and its ugly, unfunny cynicism. AVOID IT.


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Praised as it was for the supposedly revolutionary use of 3D in an artistic context, adapting an economically-oriented technical addendum to storytelling means for once, nothing will be lost by viewing Martin Scorsese’s Hugo through the two dimensions of VOD. The real advancements made here are those of historicity, Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan weaving the long-forgotten tale of cinema pioneer Georges Méliès into an adventurous family film narrative awash with humour and humanity. Ben Kingsley is magnificent as the French master, whose accentuated role in the film’s latter half rescues it from the realms of throwaway cuteness until then resided in. The disparity of its segments might be an issue for Hugo, but so endearing and exciting is its heartfelt finale that any mediocrity of the opening act is by then long-forgotten, the end product a beautiful call for increased knowledge of, and appreciation for, our international cinematic heritage. RECOMMENDED.


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Intimately shot on an inexpensive DSLR camera and almost entirely improvised by leads Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, Drake Doremus’ rueful romantic drama makes no secret of its independent spirit, the influence of Linklater’s Before films clear in the low-key naturalism of the film’s central relationship. Jones and Yelchin play off each other perfectly, the reserved awkwardness of their original dialogue slowly giving way to a tender sense of togetherness as we find ourselves just as enamoured as they. Believable as the characters and their interactions are, though, Like Crazy is hampered by its forced moments of conflict, the difficulties of the romance never seeming remotely as real as its original inception. Dramatic necessity seems ever more responsible for these conflicts than character flaws, leaving the directorial strings abundantly apparent in the story’s latter half. Endearingly acted despite its issues, Like Crazy‘s sad tinge of reality bespeaks a sincere maturity, a true sense of the way the world works. RECOMMENDED.


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What do you get when you combine the classic monsters of old school creature features with the playfully gory style of Celebrity Deathmatch, all lovingly tinged with references to the glory days of professional wrestling? Not, it turns out, the immensely fun and violent romp you would expect, but rather a distressingly dull sequence of uninspired fights loosely banded together with passable practical effects. That’s at least the outcome in the hands of Jesse T. Cook, whose Monster Brawl, despite all its fine intentions, never even approaches the promise its premise presents. Pitting recognisable classics like the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster against less interesting inventions such as Swamp Gut and—try not to sigh too loudly—Witch Bitch, it’s a film that struggles to be at all funny, the broad comedy of its colour commentators and guest star Jimmy Hart making each successive bout more a task than a treat. AVOID IT.


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Blending speculative sci-fi horror with a welcome tongue-in-cheek playfulness, Stuart Gordon’s take on H.P. Lovecraft’s tale of a fledgling doctor who discovers a way to bring the dead back to life is as entertaining as it is nauseating, its ready willingness to graphically show the less welcome outcome of this experimentation giving way to a great deal of impressive practical effects. Played straight by its unanimously strong cast, it’s an effectively gruesome horror that never takes itself too seriously, revelling in the bloody beauty inherent in the genre. Yet underlying the giddy silliness of Re-Animator’s gore is a serious sense of inquisition as to the ethics of such scientific discovery; while never the focus of the film in any respect, these issues are paramount to its narrative, their presence a constant reminder that this is all more than just fun and games. But oh what fun, and oh what games: they don’t come much more enjoyable than this. RECOMMENDED.


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It’s the affecting interaction of Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby, playing a married woman and the neighbour with whom she begins to fall in love, that excuses Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz of its many narrative failings. Not nearly as stretched as so many have claimed, Seth Rogen is the schlubby husband, whose perpetual experimentations with fried chicken for his upcoming cookbook keep him wholly oblivious to his wife’s gradual enrapture with this other man. Performing his typical man-child role—the adolescent interactions of the married couple are agonisingly irritating to boot—Rogen struggles to make much of the character, given as he is to irrational bouts of irritancy for the sake of narrative conflict. Given such little conveniences of scripting, it’s almost frustrating to see such visual promise from Polley; she is a much stronger director than writer, several inspired compositions and aesthetically ambitious scenes throughout the film attesting a tremendous talent sorely lacking in the script.  WORTH WATCHING.


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Rape, decided a 2011 United States court ruling in a case brought against the military, is an “occupational hazard” of armed service. It’s the simple facts like these exposed in Kirby Dick’s astonishing documentary that constitute its raw, visceral power, and evidence its attuned ability to incite change. Two days after its premiere screening, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta instituted an amendment to the process for sexual assault investigation within the military; such it the overwhelming evidence the film presents against the previously existent system, quoting horrific numbers of reported cases, and startlingly low corresponding prosecutions. Intensely emotional from its earliest moments, The Invisible War pulls no punches in representing the debilitating trauma the many women and men thereby victimised have been left with, ensuring its audience understands the full extent of these horrors. Immeasurably affecting, it’s a film that needs to be seen: its injustices need to be addressed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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Typical fare though it might be, ticking all the key boxes and thensome, The King’s Speech is more than merely the Oscar bait its detractors would have us believe, director Tom Hooper’s handsome aesthetic and lead Colin Firth’s engrossing performance making decidedly cinematic the story of King George VI, whose sudden appointment to power was the last thing desired by the shy stammerer. Key to the film’s effect is the remarkable chemistry of Firth and Geoffrey Rush as the king’s speech therapist; the two together find fine comedy in the frustrations of their sessions, to which Hooper’s expressive, energetic camerawork lends a wondrous sense of entertainment. The film’s fun aspects, though, play second fiddle to its more dramatic aspirations, ably turning this privileged individual into an understandably and sympathetically flawed human being. Claims of predictable ease and slightness are hard to refute, admittedly, but The King’s Speech is an enjoyable watch, not to mention an overdue voice for the experience of stammerers. RECOMMENDED.


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Intent on in-depth research of the Latin American sex industry for a feature film, a trio of young filmmakers are so moved by the plight of the trafficked women they encounter—many of them teenagers or younger—that they elect instead to bring this terrible story to the world in documentary format. It’s an admirable quest, and one genuinely motivated by a sense to do some good, but Volviendo quickly and frighteningly descends into something quite creepy when the three declare their service to Jesus and insist the abused women must turn to God to find solace in their desolated lives, imposing a worrying, self-serving agenda on a sensitive issue. That a group of filmmakers so zealously preaching their religious adherence to selflessness and charity could manage to turn the camera back upon themselves and make this a documentary about their own growth to become better Christians is an amusing irony, and perhaps the only enjoyable part of a film otherwise stunning in its self-involvement. AVOID IT.

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.